Fountain memories

Mary Verseput Neubauer remembers a Grand Haven waterfront that wasn't so attractive when she was a child — an area etched with the blemishes of more than a century of industrial use.
Marie Havenga
May 18, 2013

 

“It was kind of seedy, actually,” said the 54-year-old former Grand Haven resident, who now lives in Midland. “There was a building down there called the Sugar Shack. There was a big giant slide. You'd pay a quarter and walk to the top of the stairs and sit on a carpet square and slide down.”

As a youngster, Neubauer said she would play on the slide until the fountain spoke.

“You'd hear the boom, boom, boom, boom, then that distinctive voice — ‘good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Grand Haven musical fountain,’” Neubauer recalled. “We sat with our feet hanging over the seawall, watching the musical fountain. I remember thinking that was the greatest thing in the world.”

The fountain was Neubauer's first introduction to Grand Haven when she moved here from Harbor Springs as a first grader in the 1960s. Her family told her they were going to a place with dancing waters.

Her father, Paul Verseput, moved here for a job and became a city councilman in the 1970s.

“He was very proud of the city and active in bringing different things to town,” Neubauer said. “We used to have a lot of house guests, and it was such a big deal to bring people down to see the musical fountain.”

She said she remembers another exciting waterfront show — the “Whitey” White Water Thrill Show with water skiers, jumping power boats and a kite skier that would soar over the crowd.

According to local historian Dave Seibold, the show was founded by Lyle White in 1957 and thrilled crowds on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

Neubauer said one Coast Guard Festival week performance stands out in particular.

“I remember feeling really special because we had special seating,” she said. “One year during Coast Guard Festival, the guy that was on the kite crashed into the grandstands and took out an old lady. He didn't kill her, but she was injured. He was injured, too.”

Neubauer's fountain fascination continued into high school. The marching band played the theme song from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which was the fountain's opening track several years before the movie came out. Neubauer played clarinet.

“Jim Query was the announcer and he would announce the marching band at football games,” Neubauer said. “We'd march down the field playing that song. I know this sounds really corny, but I remember getting goose bumps. It was kind of like Grand Haven's theme song.”

The 1977 Grand Haven High School graduate continues to carry on the theme. She returns every year to attend the Coast Guard Festival fountain and fireworks show.

“Every year we wonder if this is going to be the year they set the hill on fire,” Neubauer said. “We laugh about that every year.”

Comments

christopher

The common theme I hear in all of these articles is the traditional voice and music. I am NOT suggesting that we do not move forward with new music and new "voices" of the fountain, but I hope the fountain programmers see and appreciate the fact that many in the community would not mind seeing some of the "repeats" with the traditional voice and format . . . at least once in a while.

SignalMaintainer

We were in fact playing the classic shows every single Wednesday last year, and will continue to do so this year once the new playback software allows it (the new lighting was a snag due to how the fountain controller gets the command codes with the old shows vs. new), but we think we have a solution figured out.

While we must keep up with current trends in music to keep the audiences (the stands are usually packed every night now), I have put serious thought into programming some new themed shows, and have actually started work on one. The problem is the immense amount of time it takes to actually program just a single song, let alone a whole show. My song, 'Whats New At The Zoo' took over fourteen hours to program, and a new song I am working on this year to take advantage of the new lighting has Eileen hours of work into it so far and it is only half done. Of course, you can program in far less time, but then the quality of the show typically suffers.

As of right now, myself and one other are the only two active programmers using a system designed so that the general public could programs songs at home and then turn them in to me for play on the fountain (you can get the software at www.ghmfsoftware.com ). Sadly, I have not received any new songs from the public in the past three years. If anyone wants a specific song, please, please, please give the software a try, we could definitely use new music from all genres (except rap or profane music; it must be family friendly).

In the end, keep your eyes on the fountain, it is going to be a VERY interesting year (it has been for us so far, just last night we were up at the hill from 9am to 1am working to get it ready)!

SignalMaintainer

Edit: it was supposed to be eighteen hours of work, not Eileen.

And yes, I personally would love to have Ron's voice back at the fountain; he will actually be here on Sunday the 26th for the rededication. We are starting to explore what can be done along these lines. I have always loved the classic shows, even when some of the music wasn't my style. An open ended themed/narrated show (where we can switch the individual songs out, but keep relevant narration) has been thought of.

Lindsey

"The marching band played the theme song from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which was the fountain's opening track several years before the movie came out. Neubauer played clarinet."
I think you mean "Also sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss, a piece that was composed in the late 19th century.

christopher

First of all, I want to Thank signal maintainer and others who make the fountain possible for all of their hard work. Any "suggestions" I have should NOT be considered critical. I appreciate that people like you are keeping the fountain going. Also, I do not want to in any way be critical of progress. I just really appreciate the old openings and closings. I think your idea of some "generic" openings and closings by the "Ron" would be great.

I know a lot of us as kids did not necessarily fully appreciate the fountain. But it is like a lot of things in life . . . we do not always appreciate things until we get a "LITTLE" older.

Thanks again for everyone's hard work.

SignalMaintainer

I should say that while we may not be able to use Ron's voice for the new intro/end songs (I am looking into it though), we WILL be bringing back the original 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' opening music (the version we currently have has some 'futuristic' sound effects), as well as the 'I Could Have Danced All Night' end music shortly into the season after I get them programmed.

Hopefully it will spark some memories for those who have seen the fountain in its earlier years. While we need to move the fountain forward in both technological and musical terms, we also need to preserve some of the original and historical charm that past generations remember. Sadly a lot of that charm was lost in recent years, but another long time fountain operator and myself are determined to bring the charm back. Thankfully we now have a pretty full committee that shares the same vision, and the city has also been very involved lately in bringing the fountain back to the quality it used to be.

When I took over playlist creation two years ago, the stadium was nearly empty most nights. Now it is nearly packed every night. I try to keep a wide variety of genres in each nights performance (sometimes this can be hard due to a limited library of 200 songs, of which only 100 have what I would consider excellent choreography). I try to keep repeats spaced apart as many days as possible (again, this is hard sometimes). Also, typically Thursday-Friday-Saturday feature newer popular music as the audiences on these nights are comprised mostly of teens and new/young families. Sunday is usually slower, easy going music for those who stick around after Worship on the Waterfront. Mondays and Tuesdays feature older music typically for the older locals that typically visit the fountain on these nights. Finally, Wednesday is reserved for big band/classical/the original fountain programs with Ron Hartsema, and this typically goes over very well with those who attend the 'Dancing on the Waterfront' events before the show.

Coast guard week is all the best of the best choreography wise due to the huge crowds, and I normally release 2-3 new songs in this week alone.

Just wanted to show how our playlists are typically structured so people with certain tastes in music can visit on a night that would fit them best.

SignalMaintainer

I also forgot to say that there has been a huge fundraising effort going on in town spearheaded by Ken Formsma to cover the costs of the fountain. He does an amazing job. While I am not going to release any info or photos yet of what has been going on up at the hill (I don't want to step on anyone's toes with the upcoming re-dedication), there has been an absolutely MASSIVE amount of work the past couple months involving several different companies from audio to lighting, to plumbing and beyond. It is just mind blowing how many man hours have gone into the fountain over the winter/spring. While many of the improvements will never be noticed from the public viewing area (they just make the fountain MUCH more reliable so it lasts another 50 years), there are a few upgrades that will be very visible (and if anyone was on the waterfront last night after 10pm, they got a sneak peek of one of the upgrades).

g.vandersteldt

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Tchambers

I personally am going to have to disagree with you on that. You can only play Black Horse and a Cherry Tree or Apologize so many times during a week as the old committee did; those two songs were often played more than twice in one week! And he is right, the audiences were dying out before they actually started caring about playlist creation seemingly last year.

Ron's shows may have been dated music-wise, but they are a historical part of the Musical Fountains charm, and I was delighted to see those original shows being played again during the weeknights last year; I hope they do this more often. It is no secret many people miss the old voice and personality of the fountain; every time there is something about the fountain in the paper the people always say 'we remember/miss the old voice'.

It sounds like you are just butt-hurt that the people running the fountain now are trying to move the fountain forward while at the same time trying their hardest to bring back the original grand splendor the fountain had in its early years before it was converted to the current jukebox style. Talking with those in the city and at the chamber it appears many bridges were burned in 2005 with the conversion, and many of the abilities of the fountain were deleted and forgotten. I don't know too many details; just stuff gleaned from those involved with the fountain both past and present.

It is absurd to say that those currently involved are running the fountain into the ground. I know that they work their butts off doing much needed maintenance to keep the fountain running each night, and the crowds have in fact increased a noticeable amount now that there is a wider variety of music.

If you have such a problem with what they put in the playlist why don't you program something instead of whining? I don't know Mr LeBrasseur personally but I am thinking he puts an awful lot of time into the programming. What do you put into it?

christopher

@signalmaintainer can you tell me if there is a web site that gives details about the sponsorship levels, etc of the fundraising campaign. I have seen several mentions of the fundraising online but no specific information if there are classes / levels of donations (I know ... the bigger the better ... but we are looking for details about different classes or levels of sponsorship / donations).

Thanks

SignalMaintainer

I do not think Ken is doing anything online for this (someone correct me if I am wrong). I am not too familiar what is going on fundraising-wise, but here is a short blurb that was in the tribune about it: http://www.grandhaventribune.com...

 

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